I arrived in Nagnang in Hyul 10 seeking a home where I could retire from my treasure hunting and finally relax after years of relentless adventures I had been on throughout my life. I was still fairly young in the eyes of most, but I had been on enough expeditions and put myself in harm’s way more times during my short life than many older treasure hunters. For most of my life I had been somewhat of a gypsy, or a wanderer, moving from one place to another – never calling any place home. That is, until I arrived in Nagnang and found my long lost bloodline, the K’urimja. I was welcomed with open arms and have now called that place home for quite some time. However, as always seems to be the case, that urge to go out on another adventure began to gradually consume me as the monotony of my simple life began to leave me feeling unfilled.
I spent countless restless nights walking around town, overcome by boredom. When I was able to sleep I was haunted by dreams of my past. The tediousness of my new life began to overtake me and I began to find myself spending more and more time traveling to Buya and Koguryo to search the libraries for any fascinating stories. I already had a moderate collection of treasures in my possession, but a collector such as myself is always in the market for another rare item.
I read about archaic treasures from all across the lands, however most appeared to be dead-ends or fool’s tales. I needed some sort of solid lead before I would actually put in the effort to go on a quest to seek out a new treasure. After another night of painstaking reading and investigation, I headed back home to Kyongju and retired for the night.
The next day, I returned to the library and began to search the archives once again. That’s when something caught my eye – an aged, dusty, and tattered transcript. Had I not taken a closer look I would have missed it, but there on the front of the book was an insignia I recognized, an ancient symbol of the Kudamanti, a long forgotten group of scholars that had focused on the research of rare relics and lost fortunes. My eyes lit up with disbelief.
I carefully picked up the transcript and gently blew the dust from the cover. The text was hard to discern from years of decay, but I could make out the name ‘Runag’ on the front. This instantly caught my attention, as Runag is the legendary smith of Sanhae. I had always heard tales of an ancient hammer he used to craft magical weapons that brought warriors from all across the lands to his forges in hopes of having one of these powerful swords forged for them. Some of the most famous warriors of all time went to Runag to have their blades, daggers, helms, and armor created in his legendary forge.
I delicately opened the tome and began to carefully thumb through the pages. To my delight, there was a plethora of information on this relic within. I spent the rest of the day reading, studying, and taking notes. According to the text, Runag himself was never willing to tell anyone the exact location he had lost the hammer (most likely because he intended to return one day to find it himself), but Runag was an elderly man now and if what this tome said was true, it would be nearly impossible for a man of his age to traverse the path required to get to the mountain where this hammer was suspected of being hidden.
That night, I traveled back home and spent the night reading each page in detail, gathering as much information as possible. However, I knew that no matter how much research I did on the Hammer of Runag it would all be in vain unless I had some other help. I came to the conclusion that I needed to attempt to speak to Runag himself and convince him to assist me in my quest. We were old acquaintances, but I feared that he might not recognize me at his age. I tried to sleep that night but was restless thinking of the journey ahead of me. Finally, after hours of tossing and turning I eventually drifted off. That night was filled with mysterious dreams…
I woke up in a cold sweat. I looked outside to see how long I had slept and the sun had just risen. I had such a remarkably vivid dream. Visions of ancient spirits had filled my night, and their voices still echoed in my head. I had an innate sense that something, or someone was warning me subconsciously that I was in danger. I got dressed and tried to shake the feeling, convincing myself it was just nerves. I was, in fact, about to go speak to the most legendary smith of our time. I did not know for sure yet if I was going to actually be able to gather enough information to take this trip to search for the legendary hammer but I went ahead and began to pack anyways.
Sanhae is a long journey from Nagnang, and there would be no point in traveling so far north, getting the information I needed to begin my search, and then having to travel all the way back south to Nagnang to gather my supplies. I spent the afternoon gathering materials and provisions I would need if I did get the information needed to begin my search from Runag. I packed everything from food, water, weapons, and other necessities that would be of usefulness on a treasure hunt like this, which would require me to traverse through the mountains in the west.
I took my horse from the stable and began to ride towards Sanhae, a long journey from Nagnang. It took me numerous days to finally reach my destination. I entered the gates of the city and rode north to the old hut where Runag, the legendary smith still taught young ones how to begin smelting and crafting. Being a smelter and craftsman myself, we were old friends, but I was not sure our rapport would be enough to convince him to assist me in my quest.
I entered his hut and found him sitting alone in a chair, leaning over a furnace crafting some sort of dagger. I stood silent for what felt like eternity. I had not seen him in years, and he appeared to be much more frail than I recalled. In my memory I had always remembered him as a majestic, strong man. Eventually he sensed my presence and turned around. He squinted a bit, his large, bushy, white eyebrows almost completely covering his eyes.
“… Aphex, is that you?” He asked in a raspy, crackling voice. I couldn’t help but contain a smile. I was afraid that after all this time he would have forgotten me.
“Greetings my old friend, it is I. I am glad to see that you are still hard at work, and looking young as ever!” I lied, not wanting to dishonor this great legend of a man. Runag chuckled and stood up from his chair. He approached the counter to shake my hand.
“Young looking as ever you say? Well, I certainly don’t feel as young as ever. My back is giving out on me, my hand is no longer steady, and my customers have begun seeking out new talent. I have an apprentice that will be covering for me soon so that I can finally retire and have a bit of peace and quiet, so it appears you arrived just in time to see me one last time.” He paused momentarily and looked into my eyes. “However, something tells me you are not here to bid me farewell?” he said, a grin emerging across his wrinkled face.
“I’m afraid not, my friend. I’m sure you have heard what business I am in these days. I have come to speak to you about a delicate subject,” I felt guilt wash over me as I prepared to ask this man for permission to search for his most prized possession.
“Yes my friend, I have been expecting you for some time now. You wish to know the location of my ancient hammer. You need not feel ashamed for asking me for this information. If there were anyone in these lands I would trust with this possession it would be you, my friend. Unlike most who come here inquiring as to the whereabouts of the hammer, your heart is not corrupted with greed, nor are you consumed by love of money. I trust you to keep it in a safe location so that it does not fall into evil hands.” Runag stood up and began pacing, a look of deep thought crossing his face. “If you wish to retrieve the legendary hammer, I shall give you the best directions I can to the general location of it. However, as you know, it has been lost for ages. For all I know someone else may have found it by now. Not only that, but a shady man came by last night requesting information regarding the location of the hammer and despite my best efforts I fear he knew I was lying when I told him I could not remember. From what I have heard of you, you are more of a collector of ancient artifacts rather than one who merely seeks fortune. I trust that if you find it you will keep it safe and out of the hands of evil. That is all I ask.”
Runag left the shop and took me to his home where he made us some tea before sitting down at a table and beginning. He drew me a rough map of the basic location of where he left the legendary hammer. According to him it was located in the mountains of Sanhae, at the peak of Mount Sengju. He said that when I had almost reached the summit on the western side of the mountain, there would be a cave. Above the cave he left an insignia of two crossing blades with a circle around it. Two serpents curled around the swords.
“You will need to sleep here tonight. The cloaked man who came before you will be back, this much I know for sure. I fear that he will not leave me be until he knows the location of the hammer. In the right hands, this hammer could forge some of the most powerful weapons of our time and could be used to protect all that is just in this world. However, if someone with evil or selfish purposes finds it first, disaster could follow. If you find it first, I trust that you will find a safe place for it where it can be protected from the prying eyes of the greedy mercenaries that constantly come in search of it,” he said, his voice faltering with a hint of concern.
“Runag my friend, I do not feel safe leaving you here when you are in danger. I should just wait for this man to return and make sure he no longer causes you any problems before I leave.”
“Aphex, you are brave, but the most honorable thing you can do for me at this time is to make haste to the mountains in Sonhi and find Mount Sengju and the hammer. I may be a little older these days, but I can still defend myself against some foolish con artist,” he said with a chuckle.
“Very well my friend, I will make haste to the mountains of Sonhi, I have no doubt that you can still protect yourself from these mercenaries.”
Runag smiled and nodded in agreement. I spent the rest of the night trying to sleep to no avail. I got up before sunrise and packed my things, it was time for me to begin my journey to Sonhi. I left before Runag was awake and went across town to the messenger. Despite what Runag had said, there was no way I was going to leave him alone to defend himself. I asked the messenger to send a letter to a friend of mine that lived not far outside of Sanhae to come with haste to watch over my friend.
I saddled up my horse and spent the next four days traveling southwest towards the lands of Sonhi. I only stopped to eat twice a day, and slept for only a few hours each night. If it was true that some mercenary was also seeking out this ancient relic it was vital that I beat him to the summit of the mountain.
Sleep continued to be hard to come by, not only because of the importance of my quest, but also because of the fear that I may be captured or killed by whatever man may be following me. Eventually after a night of futile attempts at sleeping, I finally was able to sleep with one eye open for a couple of hours before the sun rose. I took out my pipe and packed some tobacco leaves inside of it. I smoked for a bit as I thumbed through the tome I had retrieved from the library looking for anything I may have missed. After finishing my pipe I hopped on my horse and was on my way again.
Eventually I reached the bottom of Mount Sengju. Luckily the mountain was not particularly steep. In fact, there was a trail that winded up the mountain. The only real problem I encountered was the overwhelming heat from the sun beating down on me. I had been wearing full armor simply out of protection from the mercenary that I was now had convinced was following me. It was simply too hot for anyone to climb this mountain with armor on so I removed mine and left it at the bottom of the mountain. Although I had yet to see the mercenary, I could sense his presence and the night before he had stirred some birds in the trees across from where I had made my fire. If this man was going to attack me for this relic, I knew that there was no way that he would have any armor either, especially at the speed I was going. Anyone traveling up this mountain would have to travel light.
I left everything behind but food, water, a lantern, and my sword. A sword crafted by Runag himself ages ago. I continued up the mountain for days and had adjusted my schedule to where I began sleeping during the day when I found a shady spot, and traveling up the mountain when the sun began to set and the heat began to die down. This would be unwise for most travelers, but personally I was pretty well versed in how to protect myself from the animals of the night.
On the third day I could finally see the summit. For the first time since leaving home a grin spread across my face. I opened the tome once more and read the entry Runag had left for me on how to find the cave where the hammer was located.
“? As you approach the summit, on the western side of the mountain you will see a number of caves and crevices. If you are traveling directly west, you will eventually come across an immense rock that appears to be shaped in the head of a dragon. Beware of shifting rocks as you will need to carefully sidestep to the west of this dragon rock until you see the cave with the insignia carved above it of the circle with two crossing swords, serpents curled around each sword. Enter this cave, and near the back (if it has not yet been discovered) you will find the smithing hammer sitting on a pedestal. You will know it is the correct hammer because of the distinctive markings across the handle.”
I continued to follow the trail west around the mountain until I came across what was unmistakably the dragonhead rock that Runag had mentioned. He certainly was correct when he said I would have to sidestep my way around the ledge. It took every last bit of my willpower not to look down as with each step sideways I squinted, waiting for the thin ledge below me to collapse, causing me to fall to my death. I could hear small stones falling beneath me, bouncing down the mountainside. I continued one step at a time for what felt like eternity.
Finally, after what felt like hours of side stepping across the narrow path I saw a cave. I slowly looked up and there it was, the insignia Runag had told me about. My heart was pounding and my mind was racing as I entered the cave. A million thoughts began to overwhelm me. What if someone had already recovered this treasure? What if Runag was simply too old to remember the exact location of the hammer? What if the mercenary had beat me to the cave? There was only one way to find out. I took a deep breath and continued.
I walked slowly through the cave, my heart beating so loud I thought I could hear it echo off the cave walls. I lit my lantern and my jaw dropped as I saw in front of me the pedestal Runag had described to me. On top of the pedestal, the legendary hammer of Runag. The hammer that had forged the swords of kings for decades was within my grasp. I reached my hand out to grasp the hammer when I heard the crackling of rocks directly behind me.
I swiftly turned just in time to see a cloaked man with a long sword swing at me. I ducked and unsheathed my weapon. The mercenary was relentless, he continued swinging and I continued countering until he cornered me. Our blades met each other and we both pushed with all our might to get the upper hand.
“Put the weapon down foolish man and I will spare your life. It is not your blood I want to spill, but the treasure that lies within this cave. You cannot truly believe you stand a chance against a skilled mercenary such as myself,” he said in a dark, almost amused tone as if he found some humor that I was willing to fight him for the relic.
“This treasure is not yours to take. I was sent here by Runag himself to retrieve it. You are naught but a thief and a fool if you think I am going to leave it in the hands of scum like you.”
With that, our swords locked, I kicked the mercenary in the stomach, causing him to stumble backwards. I charged at him and swung powerfully down at him on the ground. He rolled out of the way and tripped me causing me to lose my grip on my blade and my heart dropped as I heard it clang on the cave floor.
I desperately grasped for it as the man slowly approached me, laughing as I struggled for my blade, however it was beyond my reach. The mercenary began stepped toward me grinning mischievously; he began to raise his blade above his head, preparing to impale me. I swiftly reached for the dagger I had holstered to my ankle. The mercenary’s eyes lit up as he saw the gleam of the dagger, causing him to charge at me. As he grasped his blade with both hands, swiftly swinging down at me, I swiftly hurled my dagger with full force, piercing him in the chest causing him to lose his balance and stumbled backwards momentarily. He gasped for air but hung onto his blade. He looked down at the dagger sticking out of his chest, blood dripping down the front of his cloak. He gathered his bearings and began to charge at me again, but this time I was finally able to reach my sword.
As he came closer I kicked him with full force in the kneecap causing him to stumble forward. He began to fall on top of me just as I raised my blade upright and held on to it tightly. He fell directly on top of it, the blade tearing through his flesh and coming out his back. Blood flowed from his chest like a river, covering my clothes. As his weapon fell from his hand, I looked into his eyes as the life slowly left his body and his eyes began to glaze over. I pushed him off of me and pulled my blade from the slain mercenary’s body.
After catching my breath, I walked back over to the pedestal where the Hammer of Runag still sat. I carefully picked it up and examined it. It was magnificent and gave off some sort of magical aura. It looked like it had never been used before, but at the same time had the feel of an ancient, priceless, relic. I placed it in my pack and decided to begin my journey back home.
I traveled by horseback back to Nagnang, and after a long journey I finally reached my home. I spent that evening taking another look over the tome I had found in the library. Within the transcript it said that the hammer would have some distinct markings on the hilt. I matched the markings from the book to the markings on the actual hammer that I had recovered. They matched up flawlessly.
I created a pedestal of my own in my own personal museum of collections from my former treasure hunts and placed the Legendary Hammer of Runag on top of it. A worthy relic indeed, and I intended to cherish it forever in honor of the legendary smith.
“Another successful treasure hunt?” I muttered to myself. “I would say this calls for a little celebration.” I pulled out my pipe and some of the finest herbs I had been saving for a special occasion. I sat down, proudly observing the objects in my museum and opened a bottle of rum. Tonight, I would indulge myself and enjoy the spoils of victory. Tomorrow however, I would need to travel back to Sanhae and give some great news to a certain old smith.